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The Status of Women Writers in India
chillibreeze writer — Jayalakshmi Thirugnanam
Women writers in India are moving forward with their strong and sure strides, matching the pace of the world. We see them bursting out in full bloom spreading their own individual fragrances. They are recognized for their originality, versatility and the indigenous flavor of the soil that they bring to their work. Yes, they are our women writers. Writers first, I must insist. Gender is only incidental…but, one must admit, it does spice up their work.
Some well-known Indian women writers who write in English
We see Indian women writers like Shashi Deshpande, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai, Kamala Das and Shobha De, just to name a few, who hold their own in the woman writer’s world of initial rejection, dejection, familial bonds, domesticity and whatnot. It is amazing to note that these writers and many more have climbed the ladder of success the slow and painful way. Arundhathi Roy’s phenomenal success took everyone, including herself by surprise. After all, she did admit that she had just been “fooling around” on her new computer and that it took her at least five months to realize that she had a story, let alone a novella in the making, though she had always known she would be a writer.
Shashi Deshpande, on the other hand, started out just like any other starry eyed young writer- in- the- making. Like innumerable potential women writers she began her work with national magazines such as Femina and Eve’s Weekly, slowly branched out to more serious literature oriented magazines such as The Illustrated Weekly of India, The Junior Statesman and so on. She has also mentioned that writing is a gift, sometimes like a fountain that spouts out words. Although she had the writer’s gene in her system (Her father was a great Kannada dramatist and Sanskrit scholar), she has had her share of writer’s block too. There have been times when she would not be able to write even a paragraph! According to her, writing is more like a ‘patchwork quilt’. Bits and pieces come together at odd times and places and finally merge as a sequenced whole.
Kamala Das, the controversial writer who had her feet firmly on the ground and could get to the brass tacks in no time at all. She had a child marriage and three children followed. Her husband agreed that she should follow her instincts and in the process, augment the family income. But being a woman, however, she could not enjoy a regular morning-till-night working schedule. Her writing schedule was, on the contrary, a night-till-morning affair when the family had all gone to bed. Her working table was the kitchen table where she would cut up the vegetables, get the table cleared, and then, start typing. Though this working time-table reflected on her health, it did give her time to manage a home as well…a woman’s idea of an essential pre-requisite for a job.
Anita Desai seems to have had a simple middle class upbringing with a German angle to it. Her mother, Toni Nime was of German origin. Perhaps that is why Desai has confluences of sorts in her writing.
Shobha De, a controversial writer, has had diverse career roles ranging from model to columnist. All her published novels have been successful. Currently we have witnessed her make a literary transition from writing-projects based on a rather flashy, elite society with emphasis on its extra-marital affairs, to a more mature and rather philosophical work on life and the myriad of twists and turns in relationships.
Sudha Murthy has reached her destination the hard way having shouldered many a responsibility on the way, including supporting her illustrious husband through it all. She has fulfilled her dreams, though it appears as though she has always taken the back seat in life. She now heads Infosys Foundation, is an engineer, a teacher, writer, mother and wife.
The quality of their work:
These women writers have given literary work in India an unmistakable edge. They are able to sensitively portray a world that has in it women rich in substance. Their women are real flesh-and- blood protagonists who make you look at them with awe with their relationships to their surroundings, their society, their men, their children, their families; their mental make-ups and themselves.
Now writing in India has not been treated as a medium for entertainment alone. We have a vast storehouse as far as non-fiction is concerned. Women writers in India do not merely write jet-set tales of intrigue and fantasy. Shobha De has moved away from the beaten path and has actually undertaken a serious analysis of the man-woman relationship in marriages. She has made certain insightful comments that will do the average Indian woman a lot of good. For instance she advises that a woman ought to announce to her partner right at the beginning of the relationship that she too has a set of priorities and prerogative (s) other than him because men don’t like to be taken by surprise.
Sudha Murthy, the reputed wife of Infosys giant Narayana Murthy, has written a tenderly humorous account of their modest beginnings and their subsequent growth in life. Her account of her life before and after Narayana Murthy, the birth and growth of Infosys and her novels in general, provide an impetus and kindle positive thinking in her readers. Her work exudes simple realism and empathy. All the little things in life that go a long way are highlighted. She says, for example, that she chose to stay back to keep house and rear the children while her husband went out to brave the outside world, and in the process, let Infosys grow out of their cramped living quarters where it had been born in the first place! Her huge contribution in the birth and growth of Infosys is well known.
Women writers in India not only sweep you off your feet with just their down-to-earth attitudes, but they also have you nodding with wisdom and agreement. Their leading ladies jerk the average Indian readers out of their typical Indian complacency regarding gender issues. One might tend to think of women writers only in a Mills and Boon context, but women writers in India have proved that they are made of sterner and more serious stuff than that. Our women writers have grappled with complex issues such as sensuality, servility, subjugation and society. They have handled them with a sense of balance, never disregarding our Indian traditions, yet discovering that there is more in the offing.
Detailed intimate descriptions (marital or otherwise) have been an issue of controversy both with Kamala Das and Shobha De. When one goes through this kind of graphic literature, one is certainly struck by a sense of Déjà vu…haven’t we all witnessed or even played these scenes somewhere, sometime… in the backs of our heads? It takes a lot of grit or perhaps even a touch of arrogant defiance, for a woman writer, albeit an Indian woman writer, to express it in writing and place it on exhibition to the entire world!
Women writers in India can no longer be claimed as the exclusive property of India. Their work and their art belong to the world.
Books to read:
My Story-Kamala Das
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